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One on One Meeting Best Practices

7 min read

One-on-One meetings are crucial for building a robust and professional relationship based on empathy and trust between managers and direct reports. They are even more critical at a remote-first company like BrainGu, where proverbial watercooler conversations and check-ins aren’t possible.

We expect a lot of our people and put them into high-pressure situations. So it’s key to establish a solid and consistent line of communication with each member. Team members value the time and opportunity to offer thoughts, ask questions, and connect in a non-tasking way.

Well executed One-on-One meetings also provide invaluable telemetry from the field on how people feel about their projects, technology, company, and life in general.

One on One Meetings

One-on-One meetings should be dedicated to the performance, career development, and well-being of the employee.

Performance

The objectives are to ensure that the employee fulfills their expectations with their current assignments while tracking, monitoring, and potentially making any adjustments to their SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based) development goals.

Career Development

The objective is for the employee to communicate directly with their manager what their career ambitions are and for the manager to set clear and realistic expectations and guidelines for how the employee can achieve these goals.

Employee Well-being

The objective is for the employee and manager to communicate directly about how the employee is doing. How they’re handling their current workload, and what their work-life balance is like. This also allows the manager to support their team members in managing their workload and establishing a more sustainable work-life balance.

Preparation

For a One-on-One meeting to be considered successful, both the employee and the manager should come prepared to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of every One-on-One meeting. At BrainGu, we use Lattice to establish an agenda, share notes, and develop action items. However, it’s also crucial that the manager not lose sight of the importance of One-on-One meetings.

One-on-Ones should be treated as sacred time. Although it is very easy for managers to get busy and skip or move the One-on-Ones, cancelations should be avoided as it erodes the importance of the One-on-One and shows the employee you do not value their time.

  • Avoid moving/canceling One-on-Ones whenever possible.
  • If either person misses a One-on-One, seek to add a new event on a subsequent day as a "make-up One-on-One" to ensure that they get their time.
  • Every once in a while, someone will ask to skip one (rarely) for one reason or another, a response of "It’s your time if you want it. You tell me if you want to reschedule or cancel." ensures that the employee understands that they are a priority, and deserving of a portion of the manager's time.

Preparation recommendations

Employee's responsibilities:

Current assignments – During the past week, the employee should assess their contributions and whether they are meeting or exceeding their short-term goals.

You may read other articles that recommend eliminating the assignment status check from the weekly One-on-One meeting. However, we believe that is just not a realistic expectation. Instead, a weekly meeting where both parties are required to think critically about tasks and their value to the company’s mission and the individual’s goals is a good practice to exercise. It forces you and your manager to think about the importance of your daily tasks and pivot where necessary.

SMART Development goals – The employee needs to also assess the progress they have made with their development goals:

  • In terms of skills training (mentoring; books; certifications; classes; seminars), are they progressing according to plan?
  • Should any adjustments be made to the plan?
  • Is the employee getting opportunities to apply what they have been learning via their skills training?

Employee needs – The employee also needs to come prepared with a list of their needs. This can include tools like a new computer or software, resources like training, or conferences, help managing priorities if too many tasks are on their plate, etc.

Generally speaking, managers have teams larger than one that they are responsible for, not to mention their own tasks and deliverables. So while it’s a manager’s duty to support their direct reports and provide them with the resources they need to achieve their goals, it’s the employee’s duty to be open and honest with their managers about what those needs are.

Politics – Employees often struggle with navigating the corporate politics of any organization and specifically identifying their own strengths and weaknesses in a safe environment alongside their manager. We have a process for this we call Saving Throws, which will be discussed in more depth in a future post. This will help their manager identify roadblocks that they can help breakdown, and connect the employee with correct coworkers to help them achieve their goals.

Health and Wellness – Be prepared to discuss your health and wellness with your manager without sharing any details you aren’t comfortable sharing. However, if you’re having physical or mental health issues that are impacting both your personal and work life, your manager should be in a position to provide the support you need to achieve a balance.

Manager responsibilities:

Organize your thoughts regarding your observations of the employee concerning their current assignments and their SMART development goals.

If the employee is receiving mentoring, consult with the mentor(s) for a quick update.

  • Consider inviting them to the first part of the upcoming One-on-One to provide feedback directly to the employee. By taking this approach, the manager/leader does not have to perform the go-between role and instead can observe the interaction and discussions between both parties.
  • When the manager/leader has not been involved much in the employee’s daily activities, periodically consult with their assigned projects’ leader(s).
  • Ensure that the leader(s) of their employee’s assigned projects have reviewed the employee’s SMART development goals and are seeking opportunities to apply skills learning accordingly.
  • Depending upon the project leader’s feedback, consider inviting them to the first part of the upcoming One-on-One.

Based upon the progress made in the current phase of their career development life cycle, is the employee truly on track to fulfill their SMART development goals within the timeframes specified? If not, percolate on options involving updates to their development plans to position them for success better.

Health and Wellness – Prepare yourself to engage your employee in discussions regarding their health and well-being. Not everyone is comfortable being open about physical or mental health difficulties, especially not with their superiors or co-workers. Your responsibility as the manager is to create an environment where your direct reports can speak with you openly, without fear of retribution. Your duty in this situation is to listen and provide the support they need to achieve a balance.

Sometimes it takes two or three rounds of "how's everything else" before people loosen up. Be patient and persistent, getting them to talk rather than filling the void. Then, week over week, as the guard comes down, the work-related topics become more personal. This is where you get down to the real talk about how people are doing if they’re happy at work and outside of work.

Conclusion

Typically schedule 30m every other week, but be open to exceptions based on the employee and their preference. For example, some may want to meet weekly or for a longer time window.

End every One-on-One meeting by reviewing what was discussed and ensuring that both parties have action items and deadlines. This can include new assignments for the employee and resource gathering for the manager.

Who Is BrainGu?

BrainGu is a cutting-edge software innovation lab that dreams of, incubates, and scales technology that is dedicated to advancing our customers' mission. For us, developing software is job number one. We combine critical analysis, creativity, and technology to solve problems. Our goal is to develop mission-critical solutions built on the latest DevSecOps & Cloud Native innovations.

The solutions we build and deploy improve outcomes for the operators and end-users by automating the most time-consuming and error-prone aspects of their workflows. Our customers realize the kinds of change that finish tasks in days, not weeks, at a volume of thousands, not hundreds.

We focus on clean and well-documented interfaces for both humans and machines. Our data-centric approach to optimizing artificial intelligence and machine learning through well-defined schemas allows efficient reuse of components across highly scalable technology stacks.

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